Hillary Clinton's all-female alma mater debate admission for trans men

Students at historic all-female Wellesley College – which counts Hillary Clinton among alumni – demand admission for trans men – as school president defies clamor to maintain ‘our mission’ – but promises referendum

  • Wellesley College to vote on whether it can admit non-binary and trans male students who were born female 
  • The college already accepts admissions from ‘anybody who consistently identifies as a woman’
  • Row has polarized students and staff after president Paula Johnson reaffirmed Wellesley’s mission is ‘to provide an excellent liberal arts education to women’

Students at an all-female college attended by Nora Ephron and Hillary Clinton will vote on whether it can admit trans male students who were born female in a tense referendum on Tuesday.

Wellesley College in Massachusetts – which also counts Madeleine Albright among its alumnus – already accepts admissions from ‘anybody who lives and consistently identifies as a woman’ including transgender females who were born male.

But now a landmark referendum, which has polarized students, will ask whether its application process should be open to individuals who were born women but now identify as transgender men.

Pupils are also being asked to vote on whether the college’s communications should be made more gender inclusive – for example using words such as ‘students’ and ‘alumni’ instead of women.

The move has been opposed by Wellesley’s president Paula Johnson who alleges it would rewrite its mission ‘to provide an excellent liberal arts education to women.’

Wellesley College President Paula Johnson said the college was open to all students who ‘consistently identify as women’

Johnson is pictured with Hilary Clinton in a commencement ceremony in 2017. Clinton attended the college between 1965 and 1969

Johnson has vocally backed the admission of trans female students who were born male, explaining: ‘This is who we are: a women’s college and a diverse community.’

But her stance has attracted the wrath of students who have staged an ongoing sit-in at the administration building. 

The student newspaper wrote in its editorial that they ‘disapprove and entirely disagree’ with what the president has outlined.

The newspaper has been fighting for the college to adopt more gender-inclusive language over the last year. 

In Spring 2021, it wrote to the College’s administration to state ‘we are not all Wellesley women.’ 

‘The Wellesley News Editorial Board is once again stating that transgender and nonbinary students have always belonged and will continue to belong at Wellesley, a historically women’s college,’ its latest editorial read. 

Protesters point out that there are already counts trans men and non-binary individuals among its 2,500 students. 

Many of these appear to have been admitted as women before transitioning during their time in the college.

Student body president Alexandra Brooks told the New York Times: ‘We’re just asking the administration to put on paper what’s already true of the student body.

‘Trans men go to Wellesley, nonbinary people go to Wellesley, and they kind of always have.

Student body president Alexandra Brooks told the New York Times she was ‘just asking the administration to put on paper what’s already true of the student body’

Hilary Clinton is pictured with Bill at the college in 1979

A young Clinton is pictured on the left of the second row during a commencement ceremony for Wellesley College in 1968

She is pictured again in May 1969. Clinton was described as the college’s ‘golden girl’

Nora Ephron is also a famous alumnus of the college. In 1996 she gave a famous commencement speech in which she told graduating students ‘I hope that you choose not to be a lady’

‘A new policy, she said, “would not in any way change the culture of the school.”

“It’s still, and always will be, a school to educate people who are of marginalized genders.’

Transgender women were first granted admission to Wellesley in 2015. 

The college is perhaps most famed for its high-profile alumni and has a long history of activism.

Hillary Clinton was dubbed the college’s ‘golden girl’ during her time there and gained recognition for mounting the stage at her commencement ceremony in 1979 and taking on a powerful Republican US senator Edward Brooke.

Clinton was tasked with giving a speech after Brooke whose speech appeared to defend Richard Nixon during the Vietnam war.

She read out a Nancy Scheibner piece referring to the ‘hollow men of anger and bitterness.’

She received rapturous applause for the pointed speech and the next day the Boston Globe wrote she had upstaged the senator. 

The college also counts Nora Ephron as an alumni. She served as an editor on the Wellesley News. 

In a famous commencement speech to the college’s class of 1996 in which she said: ‘Whatever you choose, however many roads you travel, I hope that you choose not to be a lady.

‘I hope you will find some way to break the rules and make a little trouble out there. 

‘I also hope you will choose to make some trouble on behalf of women.’

Women’s colleges and sports teams across the country have long been grappling with the issue of admitting transgender students.

Sweet Briar College in Virginia now requires a birth certificate or amended birth certificate to affirm applicants’ gender as female.

A History of Wellesley College

Wellesley College was first established in 1870 by Henry and Pauline Durant, who were passionate about the higher education of women.

Nearly all of its early educators and administrators were women, with Ada Howard becoming its first president. 

It was built on a liberal arts foundation before a revision to its curriculum in the 1890s which saw major sciences added to its curriculum.

Its faculty featured many highly-regarded academics including Mary Whiton Calkins, who established one of the first psychology laboratories in the country in 1891, and Emily Greene Balch, the recipient of the 1946 Nobel Peace Prize. 

In 1914 the college was destroyed by fire meaning it had to be totally rebuilt.

It has also withstood two world wars as well as the recent Coronavirus pandemic.

Its most famous alumni include former Secretary of State Madeline Korbel Albright who graduated in 1959 and Hillary Clinton who studied there from 1965 to 1969. 

Nora Ephron also studied at the college, graduating in 1962.

Many of the institution’s historic traditions scuh as Tree Day, hoop rolling and Flower Sunday remain in place today.

Source: www.wellesley.edu/about/collegehistory

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